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The Chicano Wave

Chapter 3: A New Musical Identity: Little Joe y La Familia


Little Joe's musical education began in the fields of central Texas, where Mexican-Americans and African-Americans worked side-by-side.

RAMON HERNANDEZ, Photographer Out in the fields, they were picking cotton, a whole row of black people, a whole row of Mexican-Americans and here you have this guy singing rancheras and these guys over here are singing the blues you know, so that was his influences.

LITTLE JOE (VO) My dad of course was a laborer so we all pitched in; we all worked in the fields. (OC) I actually dropped out of seventh grade. (VO) My dad was in prison at the time and it was through music that I was able to work out of the circle of poverty.


As a boy, Little Joe would hear a polka-like folk music called conjunto — coming from roadside cantinas and country fiestas.

And over the radio, broadcast from the ballrooms of San Antonio and Austin, he heard big band music called Orquesta Tejana — the music of the aspiring middle class of Texas Mexicans — or Tejanos.

LITTLE JOE (VO) All these musical experiences (OC) just helped me expand on the music that maybe I was born to, to perform.


LITTLE JOE (VO) And I brought that back home to central Texas and (OC) people were freaked out. (VO) I was wearing robes and chains and crosses and Carlos Santana had turned us on to his boot maker in San Francisco so we had these leather boots with high heels and marijuana plants on them. (OC) People would walk up to me, they didn't know whether to shake my hand or kneel and pray or what man.


["VIVA TIRADO" by EL CHICANO (B/W TV performance)]

Mexican-American identity — once hidden, even scorned — was now a source of pride.

Thousands of Chicanos united behind common causes like fighting for better education...and ending the war in Vietnam that was killing young Chicano men at a staggering rate.

RUDY & STEVE SALAS, Tierra (VO) Mexicans, Mexicano-Chicanos in particular, were volunteering; it just (OC) kind of was that thing of proving themselves as an American, proving themselves that we belonged, and the macho thing and so on. It probably took 40 to 50 percent of some of our best musicians, you know.


[ "We're protesting against the discriminatory draft laws that give deferments to all the Anglo middle class people of this country, and make the heaviest burden of the war fall on the Mexicano."]

RUDY SALAS (VO) All of a sudden you had people doing more socially relevant material about the war, about the poverty, about what was happening in East LA, and about pride.


["Family still the number one institution Respect for old within the young revolution And I'm never moving out I'm never moving out of the barrio I was born in the barrio In the barrio I will die."]

STEVE SALAS (OC) That's when the names of the groups started to change, because now it wasn't like we had to hide now and try and slide through or, you know, fall through the cracks. (VO) We don't have to say 'excuse me, I'm sorry' anymore.

The Salas brothers changed their band's name from The Jaguars to Tierra — earth.

A band called the VIPs now flaunted their Mexican-ness, renaming themselves El Chicano.

And Little Joe now called his group Little Joe y La Familia and was drawn to Chicano causes — especially the farm workers' struggle for decent wages and living conditions...led by Cesar Chavez.

LITTLE JOE People that aren't farm workers that don't do farm work, that don't do stoop labor will never know or understand what these folks are up against. I grew up doing that. I know. I can relate to that.

Inspired by Cesar Chavez, Little Joe recorded a song called Las Nubes — The Clouds — which became an anthem for the farm workers' movement.


["Your hero and mine... little Joe y La Familia"]

LITTLE JOE (VO)It's about people, feeling oppressed, but with a feeling of hope and tomorrow will be better you can always aspire for more and keep the struggle.

[JOE SINGS ACAPPELLA] [ "It's all over now, I can't go on! If I have to go on suffering Then I would rather die."]

[LAS NUBES IN CONCERT] ["I wander thru this world Not knowing where to turn."]

[ARCHIVE - FARM WORKERS MARCH] [ "The years keep going by And I keep on hoping... But sometimes when I'm singing, I really would rather cry. Why should I go on suffering If there's nothing I can do?

"Sing it with us!"

The clouds that go rolling by stop to drizzle on me. It seems as if they are smiling Whenever they hear me sing."] Narration

Las Nubes became a landmark in the emerging musical movement known as Tejano.

It combined elements of conjunto-style polka and orquesta- style horns with a modern rhythm section of electric guitars, bass, keyboards and drums.

LITTLE JOE That's Las Nubes!


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